Just a short week after President-elect Barack Obama was voted into office, Denise Campbell received a phone call that presented her with the opportunity of a lifetime – an invitation to take part in celebrations leading up to the president’s inauguration.
Cal Poly’s associate vice president of Student Affairs was asked to make a quilt to be featured in the “Quilts for Obama: Celebrating the Inauguration of Our 44th President” display at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. Sunday.
When she first received the call, Campbell was in shock and didn’t believe that the request was real. She held back her desire to tell others because she half expected a phone call back apologizing for the misunderstanding.
“I thought to myself, ‘there are so many other more qualified quilters,'” she said. “It was so surreal.
I wasn’t sure I could do something worthy of the occasion.”
With only weeks to work, Campbell responded to the pressure with her thought-provoking quilt “From Kenya to Kansas the World Rejoices” which will be represented along with 43 other quilts to commemorate the inauguration.
The theme of Campbell’s quilt is diversity. The title of the quilt lends itself to be interpreted as such.
“I wanted to show diversity of not only how different people are experiencing this moment, but how different cultures are experiencing it too,” she said.
Nothing about this quilt is simple. From the general shape of it to the detailed people included in it, intense thought went into every aspect of the piece.
The circular shape of the quilt was made to represent ‘O’ for Obama.
The green cloth that provides a background to the different characters and settings of the quilt represents, as Campbell put it, “(Obama’s) sensitivity for sustainability and the economy.”
The lawn of the White House was quilted in an oak leaf pattern, which was a way of threading commonly used by enslaved quilters.
“We were asked not to focus on the past, but on the journey,” she explained the reason for using the pattern. “This was just a subtle indicator that enslaved African Americans built the White House.”
Campbell has been quilting since 1979 and some of her works can be seen in such books as, “Textural Rhythms: Quilting the Jazz Tradition” and “Threads of Faith.”
Cal Poly will also be involved in the celebration. Included in one of the scenes portrayed on the quilt is a veteran standing by a wall that has congratulatory messages written on it. Cal Poly students and faculty, as well as members of Campbell’s husband’s oncology staff, wrote those messages.
Chris Campbell is feeling the effects of a form of pneumonia that hasn’t received a definitive diagnosis. He first became sick in 2008 and continues to receive chemotherapy today in hopes of eliminating the hemorrhaging blood vessels causing the problem.
Needless to say, this year has been a difficult one for the Campbell family, but they’ve found a bright note with this celebration.
“This is the biggest moment I’ll have in my life, as an artist anyway, to be asked to celebrate this moment in such a tangible way,” she said.